Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Remembering the Lawrence Tornado of April 12, 1911

April 9th, 2019

On April 12, 1911, the weather in Lawrence had already been unseasonably humid for two days. All through the day, it was obvious that a powerful storm was brewing. Wind speeds had steadily increased, reaching forty miles per hour at noon. By that evening, a full-blown thunderstorm was underway.

Seasoned Kansans knew that weather conditions such as these could foreshadow a coming tornado, and this was no exception. Five minutes before seven o’clock, in a surge of rain, the tornado dropped down. For twenty-five minutes, it passed through the city in a northeastern direction. In its path, it destroyed businesses along Massachusetts Street and homes in West and North Lawrence. Reporting on the event the next day, the Lawrence Daily Journal-World described the massive loss of property, estimated to be $200,000. The paper also estimated that repairs would cost $133,950.00, which would be over $3.5 million in today’s dollars. The extensive damage can be seen in the photographs included in this post, which were taken the day after the tornado.

Photograph of Massachusetts Street looking northeast after the tornado, April 13, 1911

Massachusetts Street looking northeast after the tornado, April 13, 1911. Lawrence
Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18 M 6:2. Click image to enlarge.

Coverage of the tornado by the Journal-World contained reports of the dead and injured. Miraculously, only two Lawrence residents perished.

Image of the tornado casualty list, Lawrence Daily Journal-World, April 13, 1911

The tornado casualty list from the Lawrence Daily Journal-World,
April 13, 1911. Image via Newspapers.com. Click image to enlarge.

Included in the newspaper’s reports were details about the death of Margaret Sullivan, who was seventy-one years old.

When the full violence of the storm became apparent to the inmates of the Sullivan [home], George, a crippled son called to his mother to take refuge in the cellar. Mrs. Sullivan remembered an open transom, and fearing that the rain which was falling in torrents would stain her carpet, paused to lower the sash. Before she could join her son, the house was swept from its foundation and both inmates buried beneath a pile of wreckage.

Photograph of 636 Illinois Street, home of Mrs. Joe Sullivan, April 13, 1911

636 Illinois Street, the home of Mrs. Joe Sullivan, after the tornado, April 13, 1911.
Lawrence Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18 M 6:21. Click image to enlarge.

The Journal-World also provided detailed information about the death of Ethel Wheeler, who worked as a “domestic” on the Doubleday farm southwest of town.

The Doubleday farm was in the very vortex of the tornado. [Mrs. Wheeler] lived with her husband in a small annex to the chicken house not fifty feet from the Doubleday home. Just as the woman left the house to go to this small room in which she and her husband lodged, the Doubleday’s heard a terrific crash as the Sibley barn was blown against the farmer’s house a quarter of a mile away. An instant later, their own home was bombarded with flying wreckage, and looking towards the window they saw two faces pressed close against the glass. The faces were those of Phil Olmstead and Joe Badsky, who had been blown from, they did not know where. They were admitted to the Doubleday home, and with the passage of the tornado a few minutes later, they began searching for two Wheelers.

The little room the latter had occupied was merely a heap of heavy timber. Searching in its vicinity with an electric flash light, Floyd Doubleday heard a faint moan coming from beneath the tangled mass of wreckage. With the aid of the two lads, this was lifted up and Dave Wheeler released. He could only moan pitifully and ask brokenly for his wife. His injuries consisted of a compound fracture of the arm, serious internal hurts, and severe scalp wounds.

Securing lanterns the little searching part began looking for Mrs. Wheeler, the woman who had rushed into the very arms of the storm. In the center of a field a long distance from the house, Olmstead suddenly stepped on something yielding. Leaping hastily to one side he stooped over the cold corpse of the negro woman…

[Dave and Ethel Wheeler] were married last October and came to Lawrence only three weeks ago.

Photograph of Massachusetts Street looking south after the tornado, April 13, 1911

Massachusetts Street looking south after the tornado, April 13, 1911. The Thompson
photography studio
was at 615 Massachusetts, where Quinton’s Bar and Deli is located now.
Lawrence Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18 M 6:3. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the ruins of an unidentified home after the tornado, April 13, 1911

The ruins of an unidentified Lawrence home after the tornado, April 13, 1911.
Lawrence Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18 M 6:19. Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Seedy Business: History of the Barteldes Seed Company

February 26th, 2019

 ‘Barteldes’ stands for quality and we spare no expense or labor to keep up this high standard of quality.
1912 Barteldes seed catalog

In 1860, six years after the first settlers arrived in Lawrence, Friedo Barteldes was the proprietor of a small grocery business on Massachusetts Street. He added a few seed packets to his inventory, and this aspect of his business grew rapidly. It became the Kansas Seed House, the largest seed firm west of the Mississippi. The business employed four salesman on the road, plus fifteen to twenty employees who worked at the House, cleaning and shipping seeds.

Photograph of the Barteldes Groceries & Provisions and Seed Store, 1864

Barteldes Groceries & Provisions and Seed Store, 1864. Douglas County Historical Society
Manuscript Collections. Call Number: Call Number: RH MS-P 1435. Click image to enlarge.

Friedo’s nephew F. W. Barteldes joined the business in 1874. Upon Friedo’s death in 1887, F. W. Barteldes and Max Wilhelmi became the company’s proprietors. In 1906, the Kansas Seed House was incorporated as the Barteldes Seed Company. It expanded that same year, adding locations in Denver and Oklahoma City. The company’s headquarters moved to Denver in 1961.

Cover of the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1897 Page from the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1897

Pages from the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1897. F. W. Barteldes published his company’s first
seed catalog in 1876. He took them along as he traveled during the summer months, taking seed orders
that he filled once he returned to Lawrence. Call Number: RH C4970. Click images to enlarge.

Cover of the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1901 Page from the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1901

Pages from the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1901. Call Number: RH C4971. Click images to enlarge.

Cover of the Barteldes seed catalog, 1915 Page from the Barteldes seed catalog, 1915

Pages from the Barteldes seed catalog, 1915. Call Number: RH Ser C1257. Click images to enlarge.

Barteldes Seed Company was located at 804 Massachusetts Street. Its warehouses – where seeds were stored and tested for germination – were located at 805-811 New Hampshire Street. The store was connected to the warehouses by a walkway over the alley. In 1999, the steel beam walkway was still visible. Today, 804 Massachusetts Street is occupied by Sunflower Bike Shop.

Photograph of the Kansas Seed House storefront, 1886

Kansas Seed House storefront at 804 Massachusetts Street, 1886. Owner F. W.
Barteldes is in the middle, wearing a hat. Douglas County Historical Society Manuscript
Collections. Call Number: Call Number: RH MS-P 1435. Click image to enlarge.

Fire was a persistent concern for the Barteldes Seed Company. The first fire occurred in 1863 during Quantrill’s Raid. Friedo Barteldes was the first shop owner to rebuild and accounts state that the work was completed within seven days. Fire struck again in 1904, and the two-story building was rebuilt with a third floor. As a result of these incidents, the warehouses were reconstructed with fire safety in mind. Seeds were stored in steel cabinets with wire trays. All the doors and walls were fireproofed, and at least some of the ceiling and floors were glass. Each floor was equipped with a large fire hose, and each aisle had a fire extinguisher.

At times during the twentieth century, Barteldes sold more than seeds. In December, the basement of Warehouse A was used to store Christmas trees, and nearly all of the Christmas trees in Lawrence were from Barteldes. For many years, Barteldes also processed and marketed popcorn under their registered name TNT Food Products, Inc., which was formed in 1952.

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Throwback Thursday: Black Friday Edition

November 22nd, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Happy Thanksgiving, Jayhawks! Is anyone braving the Black Friday crowds tomorrow?

Don’t forget that Spencer Research Library is closed through Sunday, November 25th, for the holiday.

Photograph of KU students in front of Abe Levy's clothing store, 1890s

KU students in front of Abe Levy’s clothing store, 1890s. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/0 1890s Prints: Student Activities (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

The 1893 Lawrence city directory lists Abe Levy as a “hatter and gents furnisher” located at 821 Massachusetts Street, where Prairie Patches is today.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Wayback Wednesday: Lady Liberty Edition

July 4th, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of a patriotic float in a Kansas Relays parade, 1950s

A patriotic float in the Kansas Relays parade, 1950s. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/2 1950s Negatives: Student Activities: Kansas Relays (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

This picture was taken on Massachusetts Street at Ninth, looking south. The corner building on the right is Weavers Department Store; the spire in the background is the Douglas County Courthouse.

Zoom in to see the words on the sashes being worn by the four seated women. They refer to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “four freedoms,” articulated in his Annual Message to Congress (State of the Union Address) on January 6, 1941: the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Throwback Thursday: Mary Evelyn Ransom Strong Edition

March 9th, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,500 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

This week’s photograph was selected in honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.

Photograph of Mary Evelyn Ransom Strong in a suffrage parade, 1912

Mary Evelyn Ransom Strong, sitting in the back seat with a dark coat,
campaigning for women’s suffrage in Lawrence, 1912.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 2/8 Family 1912 Prints:
Chancellors: Frank Strong: Family (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Throughout her life, Mary Strong (1870-1953), the wife of KU Chancellor Frank Strong, was active in the suffrage movement, especially in Kansas. She was “integral” to Kansas voters approving the Equal Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution on November 5, 1912, making Kansas the eighth state to grant full suffrage to women.

Preliminary evidence suggests that the photograph was taken on Vermont Street just north of Tenth, looking east toward Massachusetts Street. According to notation on the back of the print, the “Methodist Church [is] at right and back of car.” In his book Across the Years on Mount Oread, Robert Taft captioned the image by noting that “the photograph was taken on Vermont street and looks towards Massachusetts” (124). These two pieces of information, checked against the 1912 Lawrence Sanborn fire insurance map, suggest that the church in the background is the First Methodist Episcopal Church, now the First United Methodist Church.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants